Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow:
A Story of Aging
Steam quickly filled my tiny bathroom. As hot water splashed behind me in the shower, I reveled in thoughts of the weekend’s festivities: a celebratory brunch with my parents and a private party Saturday night at a bar packed with friends. It was a birthday to remember.
I would remember it even more so when I discovered a massive problem in tiny form, three days after my 30th birthday. Rinsing off, I stared down at a single strand of gray pubic hair. What was it doing there? Who gets gray hair down there? This was my first sign of aging. Not forgetfulness, not wrinkles, but gray hair below the waist.
I’d always been told I looked young. I continued to get carded at bars and restaurants and at the grocery store when buying wine. Few could guess my age. Once while at Sunday mass, the older woman next to me who swayed while she sang belted, “It’s lovely to see you elementary school children here at church without your parents.”
My eyes ballooned. “I graduated from the high school…over ten years ago!”
She gasped, took a step back, looked me up and down, and cried, “Oh my!”
After being told I looked young—young enough to watch cartoons and play hopscotch, I made the same cry myself when I discovered my first gray hair. “O_MY_GOD,” I muttered one syllable at a time, pausing after each syllable as I absorbed the shock. Perhaps it was the way the light reflected on the matted patch of black hair. I peered down and investigated. There it glistened in silvery white glory—a short straight pubic hair that protruded outward from the rest, teasing me.
I shivered as the steam dissipated. What would Dan—the guy I was dating—think? Instead of ‘baby,’ he’d call me ‘oldie’ or ‘grandma.’ I was certain he’d stop calling me altogether. The daily phone calls would fade as he opted to call his friends. I saw them bowled over laughing, clinking bottles of beer as Dan described my embarrassing secret—this physical flaw. I feared the worst. I pictured him with arms wrapped around a tall blonde—my physical opposite—divulging, “The last girl I dated had gray pubic hair.” Then they’d laugh and lock lips for the millionth time.
Dripping wet, I reached for the Tweezerman inside the mirrored medicine cabinet. But I stopped myself. What about another approach? I could try a brazilian and completely wax everything off. I would have never come up with the idea on my own. I would have simply plucked away the single gray hair. I recalled, however, a conversation I struck up with three men—co-workers from a Boston limousine company. I met them during happy hour at the bar of the Ritz Carlton during a finance conference in Orlando, Florida. Thirty-eight drinks, four appetizers, three main courses, one dessert, and five hours later, we had reached the threshold of work talk and transitioned into juicier topics.
The oldest of the three was short—not much taller than me—and balding. Approaching midnight, he breathed, “I love brazilians.”
I coughed, “Yeah, Brazilian women are really hot.” The strong smell of whiskey on his breath forced me to breathe in the opposite direction.
No, no. All three men shook their heads. The same guy who became the designated spokesman explained, “It’s when your cooch is bald. You know your cooter. You get all that hair taken off down there.”
The light bulb in my head turned on. Now I understood. They insisted it was the only way to go—as if they had gotten the procedure done themselves—when really they were merely benefiting from it.
I set the Tweezerman back in the medicine cabinet. I decided the brazilian would solve my aging dilemma. I considered it my post-birthday treat. Not only would I shed the gray hair and return to youthfulness, there was also an allure to it—like wearing sexy lingerie. Men all around the world were talking about how they loved brazilians.
That same day, I went to the nail salon I frequented in the Marina—anxious to rid myself of the gray hair stigma. Five Vietnamese women were engaged in various stages of nail care, working on three blondes and two brunettes all of whom were reading the celebrity gossip magazines. One of the Vietnamese women called out, “Manicure / pedicure? You pick color.”
I walked over and bent my head. “Waxing,” I whispered. She pointed at the stairs.
The Vietnamese woman upstairs in charge of waxing ushered me to the back, past the washer / dryer toward a small room. She looked young, around my age. Tall and thin, she wore jeans, a simple white t-shirt, and a matching jean jacket. Her long straight black hair was pulled back into a ponytail.
As I stepped into the back room, my pink rubber sandals began sticking to the floor. I looked down. Short curly pubic hairs—brown and black—littered the floor along with splattered wax. I was too aghast to notice if any of the hairs were gray. There was no place to set down my purse except on the floor. Having purchased my vintage purse for a small fortune from a high-end consignment boutique, I refused. I almost walked out, but refrained. I hung my purse on the doorknob, let out a sigh, and persevered, comforting myself that this would be over soon.
The wax woman, named Twee, seemed nice. She smiled every time I looked at her. I told her this was my first time. She continued to smile, but didn’t say anything. I undressed from the waist down and climbed on top of the table. She started by trimming my hair. Snip, snip. I tried to concentrate on my breathing while staring at the white ceiling above me. Could any wax be splattered up there, too?
I felt a warm sensation below as Twee painted a layer of wax on me. I looked up to see her smiling face, but she wasn’t smiling anymore. I wondered if she saw my gray hair. She proceeded to bind strips of thick gauze to that place where the sun don’t shine and strip them off with a vengeance.
I screamed. My body jerked up with the intensity of the pain. Horrified, I glanced down, certain she had ripped off a layer of skin along with the gauze.
“So sorry,” Twee consoled. It was the first time she had said anything. She patted me on the stomach then continued.
Aggghhhh!! I was sweating. I wiped my wet forehead, then returned my hands in prayer on top of my tummy.
Tears dripped down the corners of my eyes. I only had time to wipe my right eye.
“Ugh!” I grunted like a quarterback who’d just been pummeled.
The rips continued. I clutched my hands tightly. The pain didn’t subside until the waxing was done.
“You turn round now,” Twee ordered. I was now on all fours, doggy-style. She positioned the palms of my hands on my butt. “Like this,” she continued, pulling my palms outward.
I’d had enough. No more. I was about to tell her to stop. I didn’t want to continue. I’d had my brazilian experience and wanted it to stop right there.
She called from behind, “Oh, good. You no hair back there.” She gave me a pat on the butt like a proud coach with one of his athletes. I let out a sigh of relief.
I wiped my tears, got dressed, and paid cash. It was a cash only establishment—I couldn’t help wondering if I had sacrificed comfort for the price of $20. The professional beauty salons—the ones that take Visa and Mastercard and even American Express—charge at least three times that.
Hours later, I was still trying to shake away the painful memory. I felt my underwear sticking to my skin; she hadn’t completely removed all the wax. I bought myself a fresh chocolate chip cookie, savoring the gooey brown morsels. I felt like a parent comforting her inner child with a trip to the candy store after a harrowing experience at the dentist. The birthday treat had turned into a birthday trick.
The pain was so vivid I had forgotten the reason why I’d gotten waxed in the first place—until I went to the bathroom. Hunkered down on the toilet in my first post-Brazilian pee, I sat in awe of the hairless pubic area. It was smooth like baby’s skin. I couldn’t stop touching myself. It was so soft in a place that had previously been covered with a patch of hair.
Dan was even more awestruck that night in bed. He clapped excitedly while planting kisses all over my body. I’d never seen him act that way. He cooed and continued to call me baby throughout the night, caressing me. The brazilian had had its desired effect. Dan was turned on. I felt young again—but awkwardly so.
A late bloomer, I’d always been self-conscious about being the shortest girl in class and getting my period at the age of sixteen. I figured I’d age gracefully and experience menopause much later as well; I didn’t expect to revert to pre-pubescence.
Having managed to rid myself of gray, I thought of my mom with her salt and pepper hair. Twice she had tried dying her hair at salons, but suffered burn-like consequences on her scalp and the outer edges of her face—the result of a severe allergic reaction to hair dye. Friends suggested allergists and other salons with organic products. She snuffed, “Ahhh, it’s ok. I’m fine with my gray.”
While I was disappointed watching my hair grow back, I figured no beauty treatment was worth that kind of tear-jerking pain. If my mom was fine with visible gray on her head, I would be fine with a strand of gray visible only to me. Men can go on and rave about brazilians. As for me, they’d have to have me gray hair and all.
Three years since I found my first gray, I count three strands of gray hair—all down there—one to celebrate every anniversary of my 30th birthday. Instead of reaching for the Tweezerman, I watch the strands multiply slowly and laugh “Oh my!”